When Terry Ryan stepped down from his role as Twins' general manager four years ago, the baseball world was shocked. At the time, he was the second-most tenured GM in the majors, and it was clear from the league's reaction that he carried a lot respect around the game.
Kevin Towers, who was the GM of the Padres at that point, said of Ryan: "He's an honest man with a tremendous integrity, and a great evaluator. The best way I can put it is he's a baseball man."
Ryan's replacement, Bill Smith, carries a different set of attributes. Unlike Ryan, he's not a trained scout with a keen eye for talent. The same article linked above described Smith as being "well-versed in baseball rules" and "a stickler for details and finances."
An administrator, perhaps, but not a baseball man.
Smith's tenure as GM started out on a sour note, as he drew the unenviable tasks of allowing Torii Hunter to walk as a free agent and trading Johan Santana. The dread of making these unpopular, yet necessary, moves likely played a big part in Ryan's decision to resign.
This first offseason at the helm qualified as trial by fire for Smith, and so it was somewhat easy to excuse his lackluster returns in the Santana and Delmon Young deals. Yet, several years later Smith still appears overmatched. Too many moves over the last 18 months have backfired, and fans are fed up. With the baseball season coming to a close and a slate of difficult decisions approaching this winter, faith in the front office is at a low point.
I've seen many calls for Smith's dismissal, but I'm not sure this would effectively resolve the core issues afflicting the organization. It's naive to think that the GM is working in a silo when it comes to personnel decisions -- especially a finance guy like Smith who is clearly reliant on the folks around him to evaluate talent and identify targets.
This front office is plagued by stagnating philosophies. Barring a complete overhaul, that's not going to change. I've been as vocally critical of Smith's moves as anyone, but even I can't bring myself to believe that firing him is going to serve as a cure-all for this franchise's woes. More than anything, I don't think it's feasible to expect the Twins -- a fiercely loyal organization that promotes from within -- to replace Smith with someone who would take a meaningfully different approach.
What I would like to see, however, is a fresh face enlisted to fill a high-ranking decision-making role within the front office. A progressive thinker from outside the organization. A baseball man.
If the Twins are serious about turning the ship around, their shake-up must go beyond firing the Triple-A manager and pitching coach. This is a club in desperate need of new perspectives and outside-the-box solutions. Firing the general manager might not be a realistic solution, but putting a different voice in his ear than the ones he's been listening to recently could go a long way toward reversing the front office's growing trend of swings and misses.